SAN DIEGO — The days of players starring for their high school teams may not be gone, but they are threatened now by the proliferation of showcase events, travel ball and other opportunities for the nation’s top players to display their skills.
Two examples of that were evident during the Perfect Game All-American Classic played Aug. 14 at Petco Park.
With an eye on their professional futures, righthander Cody Poteet of Christian High in El Cajon, Calif., and infielder Tanner Rahier of Palm Desert High in Indian Wells, Calif., made choices that had to be disappointing to their high school teammates and coaches.
Although the best pitcher on his team at Christian, Poteet threw fewer than 20 innings this past season for the Patriots. He wasn’t injured. He was saving himself for several summer events.
“I knew this was going to be an intense summer, so yes,” said Poteet, “I kind of took junior year off.”
Rahier’s choice was even more drastic. After starting at shortstop for Palm Desert as a freshman, Rahier decided to play in a spring wood-bat league instead the past two years.
“It’s just a higher level of competition . . . junior college pitching,” said Rahier. “It gets you more prepared for the major leagues.”
Rahier was one of the most athletic players on the field at Petco, displaying outstanding range, good quickness and a strong arm. At the plate, he drives the ball with authority and projects for power. He has a verbal commitment to the University of San Diego.
High school rules in California do not allow an athlete to play for another team during the high school season, so Rahier was not available to play for the local nine.
“You miss it a little bit,” said Rahier, “but I know that what I’m doing is getting me prepared for the next level.
“I’m still good friends with all of them (on the team) and the coaches. We still hang out. Nothing really changes.
“I’d rather get my future more prepared for me. I can just see my game progressing (in the wood bat league). Big time.”
Poteet still contributed for his high school team, starting at shortstop. He was among the area’s leading hitters, batting .506 with two home runs, 23 RBI and 20 stolen bases. But Christian could really have used him on the mound. Poteet dominated from the moment he stepped on campus, going 9-1 as a freshman.
“It’s difficult because you want to help your team win and I had a senior brother on the team,” said Poteet, who has a verbal commitment to UCLA. “So it was hard. But you have to think about what you want to do in the future. So I really focused on hitting and helped carry the team there, but it was tough (not pitching). It definitely was.”
Poteet touched 96 mph during an inning of work in the All-American Classic. He has a curveball rated among the best in the nation, although he didn’t really have a chance to show it.
That was disappointing for the dozens of scouts in attendance. Among them was an NL scout who works the San Diego area and had a strong opinion about players who put more emphasis on showcase events than the high school season.
“It’s absolutely the wrong message you’re sending younger kids that it’s OK to not pitch for their high school team,” said the scout. “From a scout’s perspective, we want to see them compete. And this is not competition. At showcases we can’t get a good feel for the kid if he’s going to come out here for one inning and throw as hard as he can.
“It does no good for us scouts to see a guy in a showcase but not see him be in a competitive situation. It’s 100 percent the wrong path to take. They need to show us they’re competitors.”
An AL scout watching the Classic had a different perspective.
“You have to look at it this way, if you think you have a chance to be a big league player, then you have to take that course,” said the scout. “You can get pitched out in high school and pitched out in college and if you really want to be a big leaguer, then you don’t have a chance. Or you can pace yourself until you get signed and then be ready to be a big leaguer.”
The scout marveled at the arm strength of the 6-foot, 178-pound Poteet, but wondered if that could create problems down the road. The scout was impressed with Poteet’s arm speed, but questioned whether or not he has the frame to support that arm speed.
“Maybe the (high school) coach got (upset) that he didn’t pitch, but as a family I think they made the right decision to let that boy gain a little more strength in his pecs to support the shoulder,” the scout said. “The family made a wise choice, to me, if he wants to play professional baseball.”
That’s exactly what Poteet wants to do. And while he has tremendous talent, he knows there will be questions from scouts about his size. He’s already prepared to answer them.
“I’m actually kind of glad I’m not as big as some of the other guys,” said Poteet, “because when you think about it when your body is so big it’s hard to control. I can control my body very well. I’m able to repeat my motion so I don’t get hurt. My arm’s moving so fast that people think I’m putting (stress on it). . . . I’m not even trying. I’m not max effort.”
East catcher Nelson Rodriguez from Washington High in New York displayed the most raw power during the week, highlighted by winning Sunday’s Home Run Derby. Rodriguez smashed four homers at Petco, the longest landing within about 10 rows of the left-field scoreboard.
“Is he ready to go to the big leagues? No,” said an impressed NL scout. “But he has legitimate major league power.”
West first baseman Joe Gallo showed prodigious power himself, earning MVP on the strength of the 442-foot home run he hit into the center field bleachers. The solo homer came on a 93 mph fastball from East righthander Lucas Sims in the second inning. It was the longest home run ever hit in the All-American Classic and, in fact, the 10th longest home run hit in the eight-year history of Petco Park.
“It felt good off the bat, but I wasn’t sure it had the height, because the ball doesn’t travel good here,” said the 6-foot-5 Gallo, who attends Bishop Gorman High in Henderson, Nev. “I was excited when it went out.”
Gallo, a third-team All-American this spring as a junior, hit 25 homers during his junior season—”at my high school field when nobody’s watching the game. But it was nothing like on this kind of stage.”
There were power arms on display as well. All 19 pitchers who took the mound Sunday night hit at least 91 mph on the radar gun. West starting pitcher Lucas Giolito, a 6-foot-6 righthander from Harvard-Westlake High in Santa Monica, Calif., topped out at 97.
East righthanders Lance McCullers of Jesuit High in Tampa, Fla., and Duane Underwood of Pope High in Marietta, Ga., touched 96, along with Poteet. Five other pitchers topped out at 94 mph.
“I think it’s a crop of power arms,” said an NL scout. “It’s normally not like this.”